Attacking a document



Beginning: You won’t always have time to read the whole document before you begin, but get the gist of it.  Look for the general style and purpose. Ask for clarification from the author. Note the obvious problems.


Middle: As you edit, make a mental note or write a style guide to remind yourself whether you want Mr or Mr., non-profit or nonprofit.  It’s easy to search a document using EDIT – FIND, or EDIT – REPLACE, but don’t rely on technology.  The function is literal and the results often nonsensical.


As you get used to the author’s style, you may want to revise your normal editing formula.  Go back and do the first few pages again.


Check the logic and flow of ideas.  Is the writer keeping to the topic? If it’s an academic paper, are there sufficient references?


Note Checking and Editing guidelines on page 14.



End: When you’ve finished the first edit, let the document sit for a while.  Always do a second edit to pick up the embarrassing things you missed.  If you are editing fiction, you may need to massage the document.  Only do this if you are being paid sufficiently.







1. Sometimes the author says “Just go ahead and do it,” in which case no tracking is necessary.


2. Highlighting major changes satisfies some clients.  One colour can be used for changes and another for queries.  This takes some time on the editor’s part – it’s twice as much mouse-work.


3. The TRACK CHANGES function is necessary for detailed, factual documents where mistakes would be a disaster.


Note: For general changes like TOOLS – LANGUAGE or PAGE SET UP, it’s best to do them before turning on TRACK CHANGES because the document becomes very messy.


Make sure your client is happy with the method you advise. S/he may need help using TRACK CHANGES.



Never criticize an editor until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes. That way, if she doesn't like what you have to say, it'll be OK because you'll be a mile away and you'll have her shoes.



1 First check - overview

Look at the text as a whole: Does it look like the letter/report/essay/paper that is intended? Does it look well-organised and well laid out?

1. Is the format clear? 2. Is the information in a logical order? 3. Does the paper include all the pertinent information? 4. Does the paper include any unnecessary information? 5. Is there an introduction and a conclusion?

6. Is there a thesis statement in the first paragraph?

7. Is there sufficient evidence to support the thesis?

8. Are there sufficient references? 9. Are the ideas divided into clear paragraphs or sections?

10. Are the transitional words or phrases appropriate?

11. Is there a variety of sentences (short, long)? 12. Is the style/tone consistent?


2 Second check - details

Check the grammar: 1. Are the tenses consistent? 2. Are all the sentences complete? 3. Do the verbs and their subjects agree? 4. Do sentences link well?


Check the vocabulary: 1. Are any words too formal or too colloquial?

2. Is there any jargon or slang? 3. Are there good descriptive words to describe people, places, etc? 4. Are the same words or phrases used too often? 5. Can the vocabulary be improved to make the paper more original or vivid?


Check the spelling:

1. Check for words often misspelled. Don’t rely on spell-check.

2. Check for Canadian or American spelling settings (TOOLS – SET LANGUAGE).


Check the punctuation:

1. Do all sentences and proper nouns start with a capital letter? 2. Does each sentence end with the correct punctuation? 3. Are there too many commas or too few?

4. Is the punctuation inside (or outside, depending on the style) the quotation marks?

5. Is the punctuation for references/bibliography correct?

6. Is the punctuation for footnotes or endnotes correct?

7. Is the punctuation for speech correct?

8. Are there any run-on sentences that need a semi-colon?


See the Speedy Edit Checklist on page 19.




Are the sentences generally less than 20 words, and varied?



Have I thrown out the waffle, circumlocution and strings of synonyms?



Have I cut out the pompous words or jargon? Are the technical words or terminology defined and explained?



Are the opening sentences lively, interesting, clear and to the point?



Does the first paragraph contain a thesis statement?



Are there too many passive verbs?



Is the language clear and concise?



Have I checked for repetition?



Are the transition words or phrases appropriate?



Have I checked the topic sentences for flow of logic?



Is the report divided into sections?



Is there sufficient evidence (quotes) for the argument or sufficient information for the report?



Is the summary sound?



Are the quotes referenced in the text and in the bibliography?



Have I checked the mechanics: spelling, punctuation, grammar; and reference format?



Are the pages numbered and named (depending on requirements)?



Is the title page/abstract/acknowledgements/table of contents/bibliography complete?



Is the paper attractively presented?








Q: How often do professional writers make mistakes that go unnoticed by editors?

A: Many professional writers ARE mistakes that go unnoticed by editors.


1. Always avoid alliteration.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. Avoid clichés like the plague (they’re old hat).

4. Employ the vernacular.

5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

8. Contractions aren’t necessary.

9. Foreign words and phrases aren’t apropos even if they are Lingua Franca.

10. One should never generalize.

11. Eliminate quotations.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know.”

12. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

13. Don’t be redundant or overly verbose.

14. Be more or less specific.

15. Understatement is always best.

16. One word sentences?  Eliminate!

17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

18. The passive voice is to be avoided.

19. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialism.

20. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.  Track them down until the cows turn blue in the face.

21. Who needs rhetorical questions?

22. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.